The Oak Forest is prized by Central Victorians as a place for ripper picnics, rave-worthy photos and fun family activities.
And, of course, this historically significant site is nestled safely inside the long loop of the number one green trail that kicks off one of Victoria's greatest mountain bike adventures.
Come visit the idyllic heart of La Larr Ba Gauwa.
- 90 minutes from Melbourne
- half an hour from Bendigo
- 6 minutes from the centre of Harcourt
FAMED PHOTOGENIC APPEAL
The Oak Forest is as pretty as a picture.
It's long been a popular spot for photographers to capture seasonal beauty, as well as a stunnning backdrop for portrait photography and dramatic shots.
Whether it's gents in fine automobiles or kids going cuckoo, the generous spaces of The Oak Forest seem to have settings to suit everything.
The forest has also been a shooting location for film, being listed on Film Victoria's location guide. The local council is eager to accommodate productions around Mount Alexander.
With a distinctly Northern Hemisphere aesthetic and densely treed pathways, The Oak Forest is unique in the region. In the eighties, it stood in for the European battlefields of World War II in the drama Nancy Wake.
AN HISTORIC LOCATION
In 1900, the Lands Department planted oak trees over about twenty acres in Picnic Gully. The main focus was valonia oak, the unripened acorns of which could be used for tanning and dyeing.
Various other species of oak went in too, with some elms in between to protect the saplings until they matured.
Local conditions proved too damp for the valonias, but some of the other oak varieties flourished. So, while the venture was industrially unprofitable, the remaining trees came to be appreciated for their aesthetic value.
Over time, the oak trees became well established and The Oak Forest has been accepted as a much-loved feature of the Harcourt landscape.
In 1910, a 20,000 tree radiata pine plantation was established south of The Oak Forest. The Harcourt Cooperative saw mill and case-making factory purchased much of the lumber, to meet the demand for packing boxes from local fruit growers.
By the 1990s, the plantation had been fully logged. In 1997, site rehabilitation commenced with replanting of local natives, though some remnant pines still grow.
Despite being only minutes from the township of Harcourt, The Oak Forest conjures a sense of remoteness that hearkens back to a earlier era.
Yes, there's a sense of being in touch with nature, but the oaks recall an Anglo-European idyll rather than a native Australian one.
The densely growing oaks in the main forested area are lush and green throughout spring and summer. Around April, it transforms into an autumnal paradise as warmer shades decorate the branches and blanket the forest floor. In winter, the leaves gradually thin out, and a different sort of other-worldly atmosphere stretches through the woods.
COMMUNITY FOCAL POINT
The Oak Forest first became a popular picnic destination soon after European settlement in Central Victoria. And it still is, especially in spring and autumn.
Over the years, it's also played host to some larger-scale, more organised affairs. The latter part of the twentieth century saw it used as a venue for performances as part of the Castlemaine State Festival.
In the 1990's, The Oak Forest hosted Harcourt's annual Applefest celebrations. As the event outgrew the space that is now La Larr Ba Gauwa Park, the festivities were moved into central Harcourt.
More recently, the leafy ground cover of The Oak Forest has served as a wondrous hiding spot for chocolate treats during the annual Harcourt Easter Egg Hunt.
Peek-a-boo by Meg West @ Meg West Photography; Oak Forest Campout by Chris Cooper @ Chris Cooper Photography; Picnic Gully North and Oak Forest Pond by David J Ling, PhD @ Copy Transmission; Harcourt Applefest Concert 1993 by Harcourt Heritage @ Harcourt Heritage
Preservation & Co-operation
La Larr Ba Gauwa Park is in the North Central Fire District and closed on Code Red Fire Danger days.
At certain times of year, the CFA restricts the use of fire tin the region. During this time, camp fires are not permitted unless:
- the wind is not more than 10km/h (this can be observed if leaves and small twigs are in constant motion)
- the fire is lit in a properly-constructed fireplace or in a trench at least 30 centimetres deep
- the area within a distance of 3 metres from the outer perimeters of the fire and the uppermost point of the fire is clear of flammable material
- the fire does not occupy an area in excess of 1 square metre and the size and dimensions of solid fuel used are the minimum necessary for the purpose
- A person is in attendance at all times while the fire is alight and has the capacity and means to extinguish the fire the fire is completely extinguished before the person leaves.
The restrictions are even stricter on Total Fire Ban days. Check the Fire Danger rating daily.
Get more info about restrictions during the Fire Danger Period from the CFA website.
Always take appropriate care for the safety of yourself and others. In an emergency situation, call 000.
The Oak Forest, like all of La Larr Ba Gauwa Park, is an unsupervised and unstaffed area.
While mountain bike trails do not go through the main section of The Oak Forest, they do run close to the north of it, and to the boundaries of the nearby camping area under the canopy of the tall cedar and pine trees. If you do not know where they are, check a map and look for way-finding signs where the trails and walking tracks intersect. Be aware that cyclist could be riding on them at any time of day.
ONLY MOUNTAIN BIKES ON BIKE TRAILS
The 34 kilometres of mountain bike trails in La Larr Ba Gauwa are exclusively for bicycles.
Dirt bikes are prohibited within the park.
There are walking and horseriding tracks in La Larr Ba Gauwa, but—for reasons of safety—they are not permitted on the mountain bike trails.
Mountain bikes have right-of-way on mountain bike trails. Mountain bikes riders sometimes build up quite a bit of speed and, like cars on a road, generally do not expect pedestrians or animals to enter their dedicated trails. If you need to get across one, take care and look for bikes before you walk. Mountain bike riding involves a high degree of personal risk as it is.
La Larr Ba Gauwa Park is managed by volunteers for the benefit of the public. Please act responsibly at all times and support the sustainable operation of the park, including:
- preserve the features of the park—both the natural beauty and the built facilities.
- take your rubbish and waste with you when you go.
- respect people—picnics, walking, riding and camping are all fun things to do in the park.
Your responsible and respectful behaviour make it possible for volunteers to properly devote time and resources to maintenance, environment and improvement. Thanks!